A “green” economy?

The report of the European Agency in Copenhagen

“We are consuming more natural resources than is ecologically stable. This is true for both Europe and the planet as a whole. Climate change is the most visible sign of instability so far, but a range of global trends suggests greater systemic risks to ecosystems in future”, says Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), commenting on the EEA’s fourth Environment State and Outlook report (SOER 2010), published in Copenhagen on 30 November. This report coincides – not by chance – with the UN Climate Change Conference now being held at Cancun (Mexico). Natural resources and lifestyles. The EEA’s new assessment shows that “global demands for natural resources to feed, clothe, house and transport people are accelerating”. The assessment comes as no surprise, almost a foregone conclusion, but it does not disguise the concerns of the experts. For “these mounting demands on natural capital are exerting increased pressure on ecosystems, economies and social cohesion in Europe and elsewhere”. The EEA makes a key recommendation: “A complete shift to a resource-efficient green economy requires that all environment resources – biodiversity, land, carbon, rivers, the seas and the air we breathe – are fully considered in production, consumption and global trade decisions”. The Agency has produced a wide-ranging assessment of how and why the environment is changing in Europe and reports what is being done – and what is not being done – on this front. The conclusion is not without signs of hope: “A fully integrated approach to transforming Europe as a resource-efficient green economy can not only result in a healthy environment, but also boost prosperity and social cohesion”. “Everyone needs to work together”. “There are no quick fixes”, warns McGlade. “But regulators, businesses and citizens need to work together and find innovative ways to use resources more efficiently. The seeds for future action exist: the task ahead is to help them take root and flourish”. The EEA points out the growing links between climate change, biodiversity, resource use and people’s health. It also touches on “how tools like spatial planning, ecological tax reform, pollution prevention, precaution and resource accounting can underpin a natural capital-based approach to their management”. So the ways to save nature and improve the quality of human life exist: but they need to be pursued also with significant changes in environmental policies and citizens’ lifestyles.Climate, biodiversity, land use. The experts of the Agency make many observations and recommendations in the report. On climate change, now being debated at the UN Conference in Cancun, the European Union “has made – according to the EEA – progress in cutting emissions and expending renewable energy”. In 2009, “the EU-27’s emissions stood 17% below the 1990 level and therefore very close to the bloc’s target of cutting emissions 20% by 2020”. In spite of that, “sectorial trends are not all positive. EU-27 emissions from transport alone rose by 24% between 1990 and 2008”. So Europe still needs to prepare itself for the effects of climate change already taking place. On the question of biodiversity, ecosystems and people’s health the report explains: “The Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which now covers around 18% of EU land, has helped protect endangered species and preserve green spaces for leisure”. However, “the intensification of land use, loss of habitat and overfishing prevented the EU from meeting its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010”. Citizens’ involvement. On “resource efficiency” the Copenhagen-based Agency reports: “Food, energy and water security are key drivers of land use as often conflicting demands increase (e.g. for food, feed and fuel). Accounting and pricing that takes full account of resource use impacts are essential for steering business and consumers towards enhanced resource efficiency”. Lastly we find an unusual emphasis for a technical report. It underlines the necessary involvement of citizens: “Policy alone – the EEA declares – cannot halt or reverse environmental trends. We need to increase the number of citizens committed to reducing their impact on the environment by involving them in collecting data and through social media”.

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